Federalism—genuine states' rights—is perhaps more familiar to Nevadans than to any other state's denizens. To boost the state's ailing economy in the early 20th century, Nevada exploited the federal architecture of American law to create uniquely permissive laws on divorce, gambling, and prostitution, bringing in much-needed tourism revenue and giving the state a distinctive libertarian character. Just this weekend, the state Republican Party dropped statements opposing abortion and same-sex marriage from its platform at their convention, bucking the party's national stance.
But Bundy's understanding of states' rights is far different. As he told Sean Hannity in an interview last week (emphasis added):
Well, you know, my cattle is only one issue—that the United States courts has ordered that the government can seize my cattle. But what they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, access to the land, and have seized access to all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing. They've closed all those things down, and we're here to protest that action. And we are after freedom. We're after liberty. That's what we want.
Bundy's claim that the land belongs to Nevada or Clark County didn't hold up in court, nor did his claim of inheriting an ancestral right to use the land that pre-empts the BLM's role. "We definitely don't recognize [the BLM director's] jurisdiction or authority, his arresting power or policing power in any way," Bundy told his supporters, according to The Guardian.
His personal grievance with federal authority doesn't stop with the BLM, though. "I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada," Bundy said in a radio interview last Thursday. "I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing." Ironically, this position directly contradicts Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution:
All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.
The paramount-allegiance clause, a product of the era in which Nevada gained statehood, originated in Nevada's first (and unofficial) constitutional convention of 1863. Some 3,000 miles to the east, the Civil War raged between the federal government in the North and West and the rebellion that had swallowed the South. In early 1864, Abraham Lincoln—who wanted more pro-Union states in Congress so as to pass the amendment to abolish slavery, and a few more electoral votes to guarantee his reelection that fall—signed a bill authorizing Nevada to convene an official constitutional convention for statehood. The state constitution's framers, who were overwhelmingly Unionist, retained the clause in solidarity with the Union when they gathered in July 1864.